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From learning to employment with Activate Learning’s Building Better Opportunities programme

Twenty-seven-year old Jonathan Rhodes, from Banbury, was caught in a cycle of unemployment followed by short stints working in retail.

Following a Business Admin apprenticeship with OCVC (as Activate Learning was then known), Jonathan temped in the retail sector for a few years, working for a number of well-known high street retailers. However, he was struggling to secure a permanent or long-term contract. Following a stint stacking shelves for a large supermarket chain, Jonathan found himself out of work again – and unsure of how to break this cycle.

Jonathan was referred by his local JobCentre to EMBS Community College, a provider of courses focusing on helping learners develop confidence, qualifications and new skills for work. They recommended the Building Better Opportunities project to Jonathan. The programme, funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund, is helping Oxfordshire’s long-term unemployed get back into work.  It is run by Activate Learning working with a number of partners, including Abingdon & Witney College, Cherwell District Council and JobCentre Plus.

Jonathan, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, was able to access specialist support through the Building Better Opportunities project: “I was referred to an adviser, Margaret. She helped me by identifying weaknesses that I could focus on improving.” 

Jonathan also received one-to-one coaching sessions on a weekly basis for about six months, and had the opportunity to complete an online course on customer service.

The dedicated support made all the difference to Jonathan, helping to open his eyes to the changes he could make and the possibilities available: “Once I had an idea of what my skills and weaknesses were, it helped me identify which kind of roles I could do best. I needed help developing my skills in teamwork, communication and self-confidence. Through Building Better Opportunities, I was able to get the help I needed to succeed.”

It was Margaret who made Jonathan aware of an exciting employment opportunity with the EMBS team. Jonathan says: “It was about five months ago. They interviewed me for a role as admin support worker and I got the job.  It feels like I am starting out again after such a long time unemployed, I’m really happy about things. In the future, I would like to stay at EMBS and develop my skills here.”  Jonathan believes that the key to his success was Margaret’s ability to identify his strengths, like accuracy and paying attention to detail, and find a role that would use them to their best.  

Jonathan has these words of encouragement for anyone thinking about participating in the Building Better Opportunities project: “Building Better Opportunities will genuinely help you. Sometimes they will take you out of your comfort zone, but it’s all worth it. They help build you up to a good strength.”